Do cat allergies keep you from having the pet you would love to have? Or do your allergies force you to cut short visits with friends who have felines? Researchers at McMaster University are hopeful that your itching eyes and running nose may soon be a thing of the past thanks to their new vaccine to treat people with cat allergies.
Having an allergy means your immune system reacts to particles that are known as the allergen. In the case of cats, these particles are usually dead skin cells called dander or dried saliva that gets on the cat’s hair when it grooms itself. When you come in contact with a potential allergen that you are not allergic to, your immune system ignores it. But if you are allergic, your immune system jumps into action to fight off what it believes is an invasion of harmful particles.
When the immune system senses an allergen, a protein in the allergen triggers the body to make antibodies that are targeted against the allergen. These antibodies cause the symptoms we normally associate with allergies including runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, and swelling around the nose and mouth. Touching the allergen can also cause hives or itchy patches on the skin. Cat allergy symptoms often include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. These symptoms can come on as quickly as within 15 to 30 minutes of encountering the allergen. Cat allergies can trigger a severe asthma attack in up to 30 percent of people who have asthma. People with severe cat allergy can also experience a potentially deadly reaction called anaphylaxis which can cause them to stop breathing.
Standard treatment for cat allergies varies based on how severe the allergy is. Some people can get by with taking antihistamine medications. Others find that frequent allergy shots offer the best relief. And many chose to get rid of their cat and try to avoid places where cat dander may be present, even if it means skipping a family visit to a home with cats.
That’s where the work of immunologist Mark Larché comes in.